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Iris Prize 2022

Barrio Boy

A Latino barber in a macho world faces a tough road ahead when an attraction develops for a handsome stranger during a hot and sweaty summer in Brooklyn. Filmmaker Dennis Shimmer will be attending the 2022 Iris Prize and taking part in a post screening Q&A.


Hi Dennis, thank you for talking with The New Current, how have you been keeping?


Keeping on well and thank you very much for asking!


Congratulations on having your World Premiere of Barrio Boy at the 16th IRIS PRIZE, what does to mean to you to be able to come back, nearly 10 years later, to the festival with your film?


Thank you and it means everything quite frankly.  Iris has graciously provided an artistic home for me and my work over the years and I couldn’t be more grateful and excited to have the film’s world premiere at this year’s festival.  It’s a real full circle moment.


Do you recall what it was like being at the very first Iris Prize with Area X?


Yes!  Vividly!  Needless to say, Iris knows how to throw a party and show their guests (both audiences and filmmakers alike) a fantastically fabulous super amazing time.


You’re going to be taking part in a Q&A at the festival, will there be any nerves or are you just eager to start sharing your film with audiences?


Nerves a plenty!  I just hope folks show up and like the film enough to stick around afterwards!


The short film version of Barrio Boy had an incredible festival run, when did you realize you wanted to this short film into a feature?


We actually worked a little backwards on this...  We had the feature script in pretty good shape back in 2012, but figured that anybody who’s a somebody won’t read a 70 page script from a nobody - but they might watch a 7 minute short.


While we didn’t land the proverbial big fish - we were very fortunate in having a terrific festival run, and the piece attracted great collaborators to our little feature film sandbox, so there’s a tremendous deal of value in that.


You got to work with Dennis Garcia again in he feature version of Barrio Boy, had you always planned to cast Dennis in the feature?


Absolutely.  He’s been my numero uno from day one.

How important has this creative relationship been between you both, Dennis must have been able to bring such a unique insight and perspective to “Quique” that a new actor might not have been able to?


Our creative relationship and the resulting friendship is absolutely paramount.  I think we feel very safe around each other creatively.  I don’t mess with his process unless he’s got a question or there’s a production issue.  He quietly sinks into his character and becomes someone else.  More than any character insight, he stood by me and this project for 10 years and I’m forever grateful for that.

How different was your approach to the feature version of Barrio Boy compared with how you approached the short film version?


The short was told mostly in voice over because our location was located right next to a busy Brooklyn firehouse.  As we only had cast and crew for one day, I was concerned we’d have to continually stop and start for sound reasons which would eat up a lot of our shoot day.


Our scrappy approach wasn’t really that much different on the feature, just more shoot days.  I hope we’ve successfully expanded and explored the themes of love and desire plus the feet on the ground / head in the sky aesthetics that are rooted in the short.


LGBTQ visibility in 2014 wasn’t what it is like in 2022, did time and the changes within the community and the wider public acceptance of gay narratives impact how you wrote your feature screenplays?


While visibility has increased and evolved, especially in broader audience entertainment, I’m not so sure acceptance has, at least in the U.S. where currently all civil rights that are considered fringe, marginal or unprofitable are on the chopping block.  I think the constant “looking over your shoulder” motif in the film is a reflection of the current state of affairs.


Where did the inspiration for Barrio Boy come from, are you a romantic?


I’ve been working on it for so long it’s really hard to say anymore haha - but overall I think it’s a compendium of things seen, overheard, observed and somewhat experienced living in New York for so long.  A single trip on the subway or walk around the block will tell you a thousand stories.


As far as being a romantic?  I don’t think so.  But definitely a big dreamer.


From the reviews for the short version of Barrio Boy audiences have been pleasantly surprised that the film doesn’t take them in the direction they had assumed with John Kane commenting:At first I cringed at the voice over but as we hit the shampoo scene the voiceover turned into poetry and the dance between images and words became a harmony that told the entire story of a lifetime in just a few words and pictures.” How did you manage to create a gay short film that so beautifully captures this instance of love and emotional connection that is so rare in gay cinema?


Well if the word “cringed” is going to show up in a review, I guess this one’s going to be as good as it gets haha...  And thank you very much for the kind words.  I think the positive reaction to the short was a result of Dennis Garcia’s voice over performance landing with an audience.  It was frank, sincere and very intimate.


"Funny how things like that seem so devastating at the time, when actually I believe we were spared much greater upset."


When writing your screenplay how self-reflecting where you, did your life and experiences help to inform your script?


I kinda dipped in and out of self-reflection.  Living in New York City since I was 18 has given me more than enough inspiration to write about forever.  I myself am not that exciting and find the world and people around me far more interesting.


What was the most challenging scene for you to film?


No one scene compared to the experience of one of our lead actors backing out the day before production began.  As all locations, talent and crew were booked, I made the decision to shoot every scene without that actor’s character and pick it up again the following year.  We were far better off in the end as our final choice for that role was leaps and bounds ahead of the previous person.  Funny how things like that seem so devastating at the time, when actually I believe we were spared much greater upset.  Had Actor X stayed on board and we’d gone a few scenes deep with them, I’m certain there would’ve been more funny business down the road.

Since making the short and now feature film version of Barrio Boy what would you say has been the most valuable lesson you have taken from this experience?


I learned the meaning of showing up for people and how it feels to have people show up for you.


Would you consider turning any of your other shorts into features?


No, I think the previous ones are as they are, but I would like to do a series of very short films down the road that checks in on the lives of each of our main characters from Barrio Boy and see what they’re up to.


Do you have any advice or tips you would offer someone wanting to get into filmmaking?


A few!  If I may...


    • Early is on time, on time is late and late is don’t bother.


    • Don’t ever discount the intangibles people have to offer.  A baseline professionalism  and pleasant disposition are absolutely priceless from the people you work with and hire.


    • Make what you can within the scope and scale of resources available to you – don’t feel the need to punch too high above your current weight class right out of the gate or you will find yourself in over your head and no one will be coming to save you.


    • Don’t go throwing all the money at a hot and trendy camera package and sick locations and neglect departments like sound.  Feed your cast and crew very well.   Pizza is not an option.  In addition, make sure to provide access to clean and proper facilities.


    • Beware the overpromises.  If something sounds too good to be true – it most definitely is.


    • Find your people and build your team of collaborators that you want to be your best self for, but also won’t jump ship when you’re at your worst when things go tits up – and they will.


Finally, what would you like your audiences to take away from Barrio Boy?


To just be mindful of each other.  One never truly knows what another person in their orbit may be going through.

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